Radicals of the Moment

Public enemies tricoastal, and that doesn't even count the Balkan guys

Pick Hits

The Streets
The Hardest Way to Make an Easy Living
Vice/Atlantic

The real reason it's OK for Mike Skinner to rap about celebrity instead of blokedom is that his skills have leapt a quantum. His comic timing and mixture of slangs—not to mention his musical conception (chorus-sung choruses, a great way for a bloke to blow his recoupables)—are all so much more fully developed that he's actually made a record that's fun to play in the background. You'll sing along to the hooks, and every time you home in on a couple of lines they'll make you smile—except on the farewell to his dad, which you can bet cogitates harder than the one about international relations. A

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Romica Puceanu & the Gore Brothers
Sounds From a Bygone Age: Vol. 2
Asphalt Tango

Puceanu was indeed beloved in Bucharest, and playing her album twice proves she deserved to be. To call her the Gypsy Holiday or Piaf is to diminish her individuality: She's more virtuosic than either without showing off, and less pained whatever the cultural baggage of her appointed repertoire. Led by the two cousins who discovered her, the band is her other half—clean, swift, and economical—with Aurel Gore's violin determining the tone, Victor Gore's accordion dominating the coloration, and some cymbalom whiz or other tearing up the background. A MINUS

Conogotronics 2
Crammed Discs

Even the mbaqanga originators, who took as their conscious project the transformation of village tunes into city songs, tried to make pop music. Konono No 1 became the sole stars of Congotronics 1 just trying to make themselves heard. Though happy to sell their musical wares on the international market in the end, they weren't assimilationists, and it was their tribal loyalties as much as their avant-naive sonics that captivated alt-rock ideologues who regard any hint of slick or catchy as an indicator of spiritual contagion. Never big on lo-fi (or bush drum circles either), I missed the tune factor in Konono, the muscle factor too. So on this multi-artist comp-with-DVD it was the combined efforts of Masanka Sankayi and the Kasai Allstars that softened me up to the buzzy, beaty sound of crudely electrified thumb pianos deteriorating midair. This being anthropology, pretty much, a sampler is the ideal introduction. A MINUS

Kimya Dawson
Remember That I Love You
K

Some random verbiage—I could have picked almost anything. Say fast: "Adios, I'm a ghost/I am leaving for the coast/And I'll never work for anyone again/I'm not your savior or your heavenly host/I'm just a piece of zwieback toast/Getting soggy in a baby's aching mouth/I'm going south like the geese I just goosed you/And so maybe I seem loose to you/But I don't even want to screw." Then her family home gets sold. Then her brother wins a custody fight. Accept the strummed guitar plus friendly input (I like it when Jake Kelly's sour violin counteracts the ick factor) and the permanently childish voice, and give half a chance to the words spilling out—compassionate, confessional, witty, playful, maudlin, naked. The music is so minimal that you won't return that often. But when you do, you'll remember she loves you. A MINUS

Dr. John
Right Place, Right Time
Hyena

This 1989 Tipitina's set is so enjoyable that at first you might assume every song is another "Wang Dang Doodle" or "Such a Night." Instead, four of the nine are very obscure and fairly generic: "Traveling Mood," which the witch dr. first borrowed from Snooks Eaglin in 1973, anti-domestic "Kinfolk" and anti-woman "Black Widow," and the best of them on the merits, "Renegade," a gangsta number Mac Rebennack cooked up with Gerry Goffin. The merits don't matter much because his interactions with his no-name band are so loose and swinging, and his vocals so projected, never a given in this fetishizer of the New Orleans drawl. Even so, I remain unsure of one word in the phrase "no more sign of this funky-knuckle son of a bitch." A MINUS

Fats Domino
Alive and Kickin'
tipitinasfoundation.org

What connects these 13 tracks to Hurricane Katrina is that without the disaster they might not have been released until the man died. All were recorded by 2000, and only two, neither the stone standout you'd assume, didn't originate with Domino, who says it took years to write some of them right. You'd never guess it. The descending four-note piano hook on "One Step at a Time," for instance, could be played by a three-year-old—with a perfect sense of rhythm. But just ask Ernest Hemingway when you get the chance: Artistic simplicity can be that way. Compared to the uncredited studio work here, Richard Perry's tastefully star-studded Fats revivals of the late '60s sound like, somewhere between Phil Spector and Phil Ramone. Calm and meditative rather than playful and ebullient, this is a record only the most congenial of rock 'n' roll legends could have created. We're lucky to have it. A MINUS

Jesus H. Christ and the Four Hornsmen of the Apocalypse
jesushchristrocks.com

Risa Mickenberg writes and sings satirical theater songs accompanied by g-b-d-and-sometimes-k, two trumpets, and two trombones. All assume the p.o.v. of a neurotic young professional woman—loan officer, publicist, social planner, perhaps even actress—who may be Risa Mickenberg. Some of these songs are funny, the rest very funny. "Connecticut's for F*cking" seems self-explanatory, "Ellen's Bicoastal" cl*se enough; "Happy Me" is about falling in love on meds, "Vampire Girls" about sucking knowledge from your boyfriends. The jewel is the jealous fit "Obviously"—"I don't care. I mean I think she's a skank, but whatever, I don't care. I just don't see why you're denying it when it's obvious you two slept together . . . " You'll like it or you won't. In the latter case, don't send me your jokes. A MINUS

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